Water undrinkable in parts of North Saskatchewan River after bitumen, diluent spill, samples reveal. Husky off the hook? Saskatchewan government “unlikely” to clean all of the spill. Have the chemicals Husky spilled with the bitumen been disclosed yet? Are samplers testing for them and are they sampling the river bottom?

The reality of the disastrous Husky oil spill in Saskatchewan is finally starting to sink in — quite literally.

The wildlife death toll has now risen to 58 birds, fish, and other species. Roughly 133,000 litres of oil and other materials has already been recovered, but globs of oil continue to sink to the bottom of the North Saskatchewan River, complicating the clean up effort.

The challenges prompted the province’s Ministry of Environment on Tuesday to announce that it was “unlikely” clean up crews would ever be able to contain all of the oil from the pipeline leak.

“To be very frank, [the odds are] low,” Ash Olesen, the ministry’s manager of potash and central operations, told reporters at a media conference. “It’s unlikely we’ll recover all of it and I can’t provide an estimate as to how much.”

More than 1,200 water samples have been collected from the spill since it began nearly two weeks ago at a Husky Energy pipeline near Maidstone, Sask. The pipeline, built in 1997, leaked up to 250,000 litres — or 1,572 barrels — of oil and other toxins into the major waterway, forcing nearby municipalities to enact emergency water restrictions and shut down their water treatment plants.

Olesen said interim findings of at least 256 sample results will be shared with impacted communities later on Tuesday and made public Wednesday. In the meantime, both Prince Albert and North Battleford — the two cities whose water supplies were immediately contaminated — have been successfully operating on reserves and building temporary pipelines to alternate water sources.

Could the spill have been prevented?

While the cause of the leak remains under investigation, a former oil and gas industry engineer, Evan Vokes, believes it’s possible that the catastrophic leak could have been prevented had Saskatchewan not skipped out on a crucial review of new pipeline infrastructure located near the site of the spill.

In 2014, the Ministry of Environment opted out of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for a 23-kilometre expansion to Husky’s Saskatchewan Gathering System, which connects to the old pipeline responsible for the disaster. A CBC article published last week revealed that the leak began shortly after the company restarted the flow of oil through that system.

If an EIA had been conducted on the new pipeline years ago, Vokes, a former engineer with TransCanada, said that the old pipeline might have been flagged as an integrity risk, prompting upgrades or repairs that would have allowed Husky to avert the disaster.

“If you don’t do an environmental assessment no one accounts for what happens when it goes wrong,” Vokes told National Observer. “That pipeline should have been flagged as an integrity assessment from the learnings of the new pipeline.”

Emily Eaton, a University of Regina geography professor who has been studying the impacts of oil development on Saskatchewan communities, confirmed that Vokes’ theory is possible, but emphasized that because the cause of the leak remains unknown, it really is a shot in the dark.

“Whether that would have resulted in a recommendation to replace it, or assess its integrity more thoroughly and thus avoid a spill is a guessing game,” she said. “I haven’t seen necessarily anything that shows that Husky is more negligent than any other company, I just think the regulatory environment is so lax.” [HUSKY COULD EASILY HAVE COMPLETED AN EIA WITHOUT REGULATOR REQUIRING IT! WHERE’s HUSKY’S DUE DILIGENCE?]

Saskatchewan’s environmental assessments too lax

Despite the fact that it would run beneath a major waterway, the 23-kilometre expansion was excused from an EIA in 2014 as it was not considered a “development” by the Ministry of Environment. According to Eaton, this is typical of the government, which “gives a pass” to nearly all pipelines its regulates.

“They’re always considered ‘not a development’ and therefore don’t go to an EIA,” she explained. “So I don’t think there’s anything particularly spectacular about this spill, it’s just the result of a regulatory system that is particularly lax.”

Vokes, best known as the engineer who blew this whistle on TransCanada in 2012, agreed and said the engineers who built the pipelines — new and old — clearly didn’t do their jobs. Husky could not tell National Observer how close the new pipeline infrastructure was to the leak in kilometres, and would not answer repeated questions on whether the pipeline near Maidstone that spilled the oil was reviewed or assessed as part of the system when the new expansion was built.

Vokes was suspicious about the lack of transparency.

“I think you’re on the right track if they won’t answer that question,” he said. “What you’re seeing is politics in engineering, and politics and engineering don’t mix.”

Husky has already disclosed that it knew something was amiss with the pipeline that leaked on the eve of Wed. July 20, but did not report the spill to the government until 14 hours later on Thurs. July 21. Husky was not available to answer reporter questions at the media conference on Tuesday morning, but when presented with Vokes’ theory by National Observer over the phone, Olesen of the Ministry of Environment responded:

“Hindsight is 2020. I can neither deny or confirm the accuracy of those statements.”

Not an acceptable answer

Clean up efforts for the spill continue today as Husky Energy, the Ministry of Environment, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and other experts wash the shorelines of the North Saskatchewan River. Approximately seven kilometres of shoreline has been cleaned so far, and 11 booms remain in place to contain the floating oil.

Nature Canada however, has deemed the province’s Tuesday statement that full containment is unlikely, as “not an acceptable answer” at all. Floating oil is indeed difficult to contain, said its director of conservation and general counsel, Stephen Hazell, but “that’s their problem.”

“That’s what they have insurance for,” he told National Observer. “It’s no answer to say, ‘Oh it’s sunk to the bottom, we can’t get at it.’ Put some smart engineers on it and figure it out.”

He too, called Saskatchewan’s environmental assessment regime for pipelines “among the worst” in Canada, and called on the government and Husky Energy to provide whatever resources are required to dig the sunken oil out from the bottom of the river.

Husky Energy has issued a public apology for the spill. [Emphasis added. Where’s Encana’s public apology for illegally fracturing Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers in 2004? Where’s the AER’s apology for violating Ernst’s Charter rights, trying to intimidate her silent and stop her from uncovering the regulators’ cover-up of Encana’s law violations? Where’s the Alberta government’s apology for its dreadfully shoddy and incomplete investigation that merely bullied harmed families and fraudulently covered-up Encana’s illegal fracs? Where’s the apology from the Alberta Research Council (now Alberta Innovates) for also fraudulently altering data, omitting data, and covering-up Encana’s crimes?]


Husky’s Ship A-Sinking!! email by Stewart Shields to federal and provincial authorities, August 3, 2016

Why in hell are we giving out licenses for pipelines who’s contents cannot be cleaned up?? Hopefully this is the last filthy dirty trick the Harper Conservatives can pull on the Canadian public!! Remember always the first thing to leave a bitumen spill or H2S release is the truth!! Much of the bitumen that sinks will contain heavy metals and could be impregnated with inhibitors and other unfriendly chemicals!! The fact we are close to entering fall it’s not too soon for the Saskatchewan government to be approaching Husky on behalf of the cities and towns that now require a permanent back –up water supply since Husky has and could again ruin the water many count on for their daily lives?

Wall seems to have become a very quiet little promoter for bitumen pipelines going to both to the East and West Coast!! Industry members wanting to continue with the bitumen businesses that the Alberta public paid for, had better start forming operating partnerships to upgrade bitumen to a useful crude oil for transportation to open markets!! Really the coke in bitumen must at one point be removed from raw sour bitumen—it does make environmental sense to have that take place prior to transportation, to save the rivers and streams in North America!! Now that it has hit the fan, it will be interesting who see who really has environmental concerns while everyone is watching!!

Stewart Shields

Unlikely Saskatchewan oil spill can be completely cleaned up, ministry says, Some of the material will sink to the bottom of the river making it extremely difficult to recover by The Canadian Press, August 2, 2016, Toronto Star

Interim findings of 256 water sample results will be shared with affected communities today and made public Wednesday.

About 133,000 litres of oil have been recovered after a pipeline spill in Saskatchewan, but the Ministry of Environment says it’s unlikely that all the oil can be cleaned up.

A Husky Energy pipeline spilled up to 250,000 litres of oil mixed with a lighter hydrocarbon called a diluent into the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone almost two weeks ago.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Ash Olesen says some of the material will sink to the bottom of the river and it’s extremely difficult to recover.

More than 1,200 water samples have been taken between the spill site and the city of Prince Albert, about 300 kilometres away.

Olesen says interim findings of 256 sample results will be shared with impacted communities today and made public Wednesday.

The cities of North Battleford and Prince Albert had to shut down their drinking water intakes from the river after the spill, and have been using reserves and building temporary pipelines to alternate water sources. [Emphasis added]

North Sask. River water quality test results are in but not made public by Alex MacPherson, Saskatoon Starphoenix, August 2, 2016, Calgary Herald

The provincial government has received the results of tests conducted on more than 250 water samples from the oil-contaminated North Saskatchewan River but won’t release any data until later in the week.

“We are focused on getting this information to stakeholders and communities today, and then tomorrow, hopefully, following those discussions, we’ll get that to the public,” Ministry of Environment spokesman Ash Olesen told reporters Tuesday.

Approximately 155 water samples were taken Monday, bringing the total number of samples collected since a Husky Energy Inc. pipeline spilled more than 200,000 litres of oil near and into the North Saskatchewan to 1,217, Olesen said.

More than 900 of those samples have been analyzed, and almost a third of the results — 256 samples — have been received, he said. However, the government won’t say how contaminated the river is until Wednesday at the earliest, he added.

“My expectation is that the water isn’t that dangerous, but I need to see all the analyses and have it vetted by the various experts,” Olesen told reporters during the government’s daily operational update on the oil spill.

Patrick Boyle, the Water Security Agency’s director of corporate communications, said the government would “probably” release more information Wednesday.

“It would be proper to brief the stakeholders first, and I think we can all appreciate that,” Boyle said.

Communities downstream from the spill site east of Lloydminster have spent the last week frantically seeking out alternate water sources and several remain under local states of emergencies.

Duane McKay, Saskatchewan’s emergency management commissioner told reporters on the conference call that the drinking water situation has stabilized, with construction of water pipelines mostly complete and cities moving into “maintenance mode.” [Emphasis added]

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